The Link Between Gemba Kaizen and Human Resource Development
Nidhi Shah recently posted a question on this blog "Is there a link between Gemba kaizen and HRD personnel in an organisation?" Thanks for your question Nidhi. Kaizen and Lean manufacturing can sometimes be seen as technical areas that are owned by production management, industrial engineering or quality departments. In both organizations just starting out with kaizen and in mature Lean manufacturing organization there is a strong case for having kaizen activity integrated as part of a company's human resource development strategy.
In addition to hiring, training and resolving personnel conflicts human resource specialists should develop people into good problem solvers. This is really the heart of kaizen. The way to develop people's kaizen skills and problem solving is mostly not through class room study but in actual practical situations on the gemba. Of course this is the job of the team leader, supervisor or manager but HRD has a role in identifying the types of OJT (on the job training) needed to support not only the production or transactional process but also problem solving within that process.
At many companies active in kaizen, as in Toyota, kaizen activity (whether it be QC Circles, suggestion systems, or jishuken) are paid for out of the training budget, as part of human resource development.
In regards to suggestion systems and employee involvement in day-to-day problem solving and kaizen activity there is often the question of whether people should be paid for their kaizen ideas. The answer is that yes, they should be paid. The reason is that people are asked to develop and document these kaizen ideas during their breaks, lunch time and after work. It is not so much a reward as a thanks for doing informal of overtime work. This payment for ideas (typically $5 for all ideas implemented) comes out of the HRD budget because this type of kaizen is also training.
There are specific ways that HRD personnel can support Lean manufacturing and kaizen. For instance the Skill Matrix is a key to used to visualize cross training and enabling multi-process handling and one-piece flow. As part of a training and skill development system, the Skill Matrix is a very useful tool. See here for an example of an article I posted earlier on how the use of a skill matrix enabled kaizen.
The Human Capital Institute website often contains good information on the area of Human Resources Development. An article titled The Latest Trends of Japanese HRM Systems: An Interview with Professor Yasuhiko Uchida is a very interesting study of trends and comparisons of HR systems. The following two questions and answers in the interview I found relevant the topic of the link between HRD personnel and kaizen:
Are Japanese companies giving up on their practice of long-term employment?
No. I would like to emphasize that Japanese companies have not abolished long-term employment and still prefer developing their employees internally rather than utilizing the labor market to bring in outside talent.
What sort of firm-specific knowledge did these manufacturing firms consider important?
The competencies companies really want are, for example, kaizen ability on the shop floor, craftsmanship, and firm-specific technical knowledge such as high quality liquid crystal production capability for Sharp Corporation, hybrid car engine technologies for Toyota, and precision instruments assembly technologies for Canon. Sharp has been able to develop LCD technologies because it has shifted three-quarters of its technological specialists in various fields to LCD-not by trying to bring in that talent from outside.
For Japanese companies role of HRD is not only critical to kaizen, but also developing core competencies and even innovation in new products and technologies, according to Professor Uchida
As an addendum to the article there is a list of differences between HR in the United States and Japan. Since kaizen originated in Japan and many of us recognize Toyota as one of the better companies at doing long-term kaizen I think understanding these differences can provide insight to the question of the link between kaizen and HRD personnel. From the article:
1. Role of HR
2. Goals of human-resources development
3. Appraisal standards
4. HR development methods
"Kaizen won't work for us because this isn't Japan" is an often-heard excuse. The processes, parts or services that people create around the world are not so different. The people, and how we develop them into customer-focused problem solvers is the key difference. For most of us reading right now “...this is not Japan” is a true statement, but not an excuse. A more useful way to put it may be that some organizations find kaizen challenging “...because we don't have a human resource development strategy that supports kaizen.”
There are enough organizations outside of Japan succeeding with Lean manufacturing and kaizen to refute the above excuse. At the same time you could argue that success with kaizen has nothing to do with the differences in how firms in Japan and the United States approach HRD. But there are not so many organizations outside of Japan that can honestly say they have been doing kaizen non-stop for 20. 30 or 40 years. That requires a strong link between kaizen and HRD personnel because ultimately kaizen is all about people becoming problem solvers.
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